Environmental Protection

AWWA: Disinfectant Choice Is a Local Decision

Water security and infrastructure funding were on the minds of more than 130 water utility professionals who visited lawmakers in Capitol Hill for the American Water Works Association's ninth annual Water Matters! Fly-In on March 24-25.

Association members urged Congress to support security legislation that applies to water utilities only if it:

  • Does not include authority to order the use of “inherently safer technology.” According to AWWA, decisions concerning utility choice of disinfectant are complex, based on critical local factors (such as such as water chemistry, particular pathogens, environmental factors, and infrastructure) and must remain local decisions.
  • Provides adequate protection of sensitive information. Personnel (including collective bargaining agents) who are not water system employees, their contractors, or government agents, should not have access to or be involved in the development of vulnerability assessments or site security plans.

An AWWA press release noted that U.S. House of Representatives bill H.R. 2868 would create a new chemical security program for water and wastewater utilities under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security providing input for the new regulatory process. The bill would place final decision on which materials – primarily disinfectants – or processes a water utility may use outside of the local community and with already under-resourced state drinking water primacy agencies. This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where hearings were held on March 3.

Tommy Holmes, AWWA legislative director, said the organization does not support nor oppose HR 2868, per se.

"We don’t often support or oppose specific bills by number because they are often amended," said Holmes. "We hold to certain principles throughout the legislative process," he added.

According to AWWA's Government Affairs department, water systems serving more than 3,300 people have developed vulnerability assessments required by the Public Health Protection and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 and emergency response plans to help address homeland security concerns since 2001. Most have restricted access and enacted other measures to secure critical assets, including chemical supplies. The association's position paper states: "In light of the steps the water sector has already taken to address security, it could make sense to require periodic updates of vulnerability assessments and security plans. It does not make sense (and could cause harm) to prohibit the use of particular chemicals, including chlorine gas."

Drinking water utilities are exempt from chemical facility security anti-terrorism standards (CFATS), but legislation authorizing CFATS expires in September and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs is considering CFATS legislation that would include the water sector.

AWWA also noted in its Chemical Security Legislation position paper that Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act requires utilities that use certain chemicals to comply with risk management planning provisions as well as emergency planning and community notification provisions under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.

Further demonstrating its commitment to security, AWWA in 2009 prepared the Selecting Disinfectants in a Security Conscious Environment guide, which is free for Utility members. The guide a step-by-step process to evaluate disinfection options that meets the unique needs of each water, wastewater, and water reuse system. The association also formed a partnership last year with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Innovative Technologies Institute to develop a standard (RAMCAP) for analyzing and managing risks of attacks and natural hazards.

Fly-In participants also encouraged lawmakers to:

  • create a federal Water Infrastructure Bank that would provide low-cost capital to water utilities and to State Revolving Funds;
  • support reform and expanded capitalization of state revolving loan fund programs for drinking water and wastewater by the Senate voting S.1005, the Water Infrastructure Financing Act; and
  • remove water projects from the state volume cap on Private Activity Bonds by supporting H.R. 537, the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investment Act.

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